Illuminating hoopla draws a crowd

Let it shine, let it shine



At Market Square for Friday's Light Up Night kick-off, Santa was in a forgiving mood.

All they had to do to redeem themselves, he told members of the crowd packing the square, was to count down with him before he flipped the switch on 150,000 lights and a 30-foot-high lighted sphere tree.

"It doesn't matter what you've done all year -- tonight you go on the nice list," Santa told them. "All you have to do is show your Pittsburgh pride and help me with the countdown."

Joining in, the crowd dutifully counted down, and the lights burst into view along the glass office windows lining the square, pulsing along with a pounding rock beat that soon merged into a Jeff Jimerson mini-concert that repeated itself every half hour. Nearby, twin gas-fueled torches atop the gate to Forbes Avenue roared giant flames periodically, prompting people next to them to startle and scream.

All the hoopla -- from the tree lighting at PPG Plaza to jazz and blues concerts all over Downtown, to ice carving and a Zambelli Internationale fireworks finale -- even drew people like 36-year-old Tammie Kitt of Uptown, who hadn't planned to come.

After picking up her two grandchildren and a young niece from her daughter's house, she met her mother and came back Downtown to see the sights.

"I came for the food -- whatever smells good to me," she said, laughing.

Hilda Faith, her face partly covered by the faux fur and red nose of an antlered Rudolph hat she bought at Kennywood, couldn't smell much because of her headgear. But she loves hats -- this was one of the three she had brought -- and anyway it was useful, she said.

"This can be kind of annoying, but it's keeping me warm tonight," said Ms. Faith, of Washington, Pa., who had come with her husband and seven other family members to see the tree lighting and fireworks and to ride the Duquesne Incline.

Vicki Patterson, her boyfriend Ken Spalla and his 10-year-old son, Tyler, all of Baldwin Borough, were planning on hot chocolate, looking at the holiday window unveiling at Macy's, checking out the ice sculptures and enjoying the fireworks.

"And I'm trying to talk him into a carriage ride, but you know," Ms. Patterson said, prompting Tyler to shake his head in a polite but serious "no way."

Nearby, the heavy rhythm of a busker's bass drum battled with Bing Crosby singing "Let It Snow" from a store's audio system, piped onto the street. Bubbles, drifting like snow on a breeze that chilled as the night went on, flowed up the street from Market Square past a grainy 1960s-era Christmas movie that no one seemed to notice playing on the brick wall of an office building.

"I'll get it for you," a young man told his girlfriend, grabbing and popping one of the bubbles as they walked toward PPG Plaza. "Really, I'm going to get one."

At the plaza, Victoria Augustine, 15, and Domenic Raspanti, 17, both of Upper Burrell, angled a cell phone at arm's length to get a picture of themselves with the skating rink and its giant Christmas tree in the background. It was Victoria's first time at Light Up Night, and she and Domenic planned to visit all the attractions.

The best part so far, she said, was seeing all the gingerbread houses made by children, youth groups and schools, including one fashioned to look like PNC Park.

"There's just so many, and they're all ages, too," Victoria said.

"I did it as a kid, so it's neat to see," Domenic said.


Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com.

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